Wednesday, March 4, 2009
RETURN OF THE SHAQ
PHOENIX SUNS @ MIAMI HEAT 7:30pm
Tonight marks the eagerly anticipated return of former Heat big man, Shaquille O'Neal to American Airlines Arena. It is his first time back since he was traded last season, since he is playing his best basketball in years, it is fair to wonder if the Heat made a mistake by trading him for Shawn Marion in the first place?
When Shaq was traded, the Heat were last place and the future looked dim , while he and Dwayne Wade missed game after game with various injuries. It became obvious to the Heat front office that the leftovers from their championship run in 2005-06 were not a nucleus they could not succeed with anymore. Therefore it was a practical move at the time to trade him for Marion and Marcus Banks. Those players would not put Miami back into contention by themselves, but it was feasible that they could help Miami transition into a up-tempo squad, while also putting themselves into position to get a top draft pick.
While the Heat never quite became that high octane squad, they were able to get Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers in the draft. This marked a turning point for the franchise as they were able to get 2 foundation players in one draft. Add these 2 guys to an MVP season for Dwayne Wade, a healthy year for Udonis Haslem, and the Heat quickly jumped back into the playoff hunt. Marion provide the Heat with strong play from both forward positions, but he was not good enough to keep Beasley off the court so he became expendable. So the Heat moved him along with Marcus Banks to Toronto for oft-injured center Jermaine O'Neal.
Jermaine is not the All Star Center that he was in his Indiana days, but when he is healthy he can still get a double double and play solid defense. That is more than they Heat was getting from the center by committee they were using before. With playoffs a guarantee, barring a Dwayne Wade season ending injury, the Heat needed to get bigger upfront. So bringing in Jermaine made sense, as he is a solid complementary piece to the young core. He has been through his fair share of grueling playoff series, which is essential when you have so many core guys that have never been in a single playoff game.
As Jermaine has struggled a bit to fit in with the Heat, Shaq has played his best basketball in 3 years, so the debate is on, but if the Heat had not gotten rid of Shaq when they did, they would not have the young nucleus they have now and Wade would not be the unquestioned leader. It is interesting to note, that as well as Shaquille has played for Phoenix this season, he was still being shopped heavily at the trade deadline. I guess that hefty contract and even heftier ego can weigh heavily on a squad. In that case, Jermaine is the better fit, now if only we could find a way to get him rebounding again. Here is to hoping that headband helps him hit the boards tonight.